"To those we love best we say the least." – Anonymous Philippine proverb.
When Ammu sneezed, she really gusted.
Ammu sneezed in continuous bouts, like a bitter chain reaction triggered by the need to explode in a cleansing rage. She sneezed in the mornings, right when her bodily fluids are readjusting to the positional change from fetal to vertical. She sneezed until it shook her balance and forced her seated. She sneezed hardest and most persistent when frustration stuck in her nasal passage and her sinuses demanded forgiveness. She sneezed until her face turned red, and her eyes filled with tears, and her ears twanged with a dizzying ring.
One morning, Ammu's ever s often sneezing bouts concurred with Apu's ever so rare visits. Apu, who is Ammu's only daughter and our only sister, has rarely been home in the last seven years, especially ever since Ammu's sneezes had infected her and forced her to learn sneeziology.
On this very rare morning, Apu quietly decided to take on the mucous hail that sheathed Ammu's heart with rage and bitterness and hate, and sat down within dangerously mucous-range proximity in front of our wheezing and sneezing Ammu.
When we thought Ammu's spittle might soak Apu's hair and white, foreigner's clothes, Apu brazenly pressed both of her thumbs an inch behind Ammu's thinning hairline (where bitter sneezes fed on Ammu's soul), the way no child should without the elders' permission.
We held our breaths for another knockout sneeze, but Ammu seemed to have forgotten how to sneeze. Her sneezes halted abruptly, and the color on her confused face quickly faded into a lovely pink, and Apu smiled to her knowingly.
"Look what you've done," Ammu scolded in between hollow breaths of half-sneeze and half-relief, "I lost my sneeze."
They sat in the middle of a puddle of mucous and tears and sneeze-dust that was slowly submerging into where thoughts and memories and emotions are buried and forgotten, and the air around them calmed with antihistaminic glow. "You're welcome, Ammu."
We haven't seen Apu again since that morning, and Ammu refuses to forgive her for that. But once in a while, when she thinks that she's alone in her raging sneezing fits, we see Ammu following the imaginary trace of fingers that Apu had left on her head, to press and pass on the longing for our missing sister, to the earth beneath her.
Inspired by Maya Angelou's quote: "Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. But anger is like fire. It burns all clean."